Bentsen choice came at Dukakis kitchen table


BOSTON -- Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis chose Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as his running mate during a discussion around Dukakis' kitchen table, the top adviser to the Massachusetts governor said Tuesday.

Paul Brountas, Dukakis' longtime friend and national campaign chairman, said Dukakis picked the senator at 11:30 p.m. EDT Monday at the end of an hourlong debate with his wife, Kitty, and senior aides around the kitchen table in the Dukakis' Brookline, Mass., home.


Brountas recalled that Dukakis said, 'That's my choice' -- but Bentsen did not learn of his selection until 6:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, when Dukakis called the senator's Washington home while Bentsen was shaving.

Dukakis' call had to wait until morning, Brountas said, because Bentsen had unplugged his telephone to avoid reporters' calls.

Brountas, who coordinated the selection process that began after the June 7 primaries, said the Monday night discussion focused on seven finalists for the ticket: civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, Sens. John Glenn of Ohio, Albert Gore of Tennessee and Bob Graham of Florida and Reps. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Lee Hamilton of Indiana. Gore and Gephardt were presidential candidates this year.


Brountas said Dukakis told Jackson of his decision in a telephone call between 10 and 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Brountas said. Dukakis had tried earlier, but Jackson was traveling between Cincinnati and Washington.

In selecting the running mate, Brountas -- who led the search for Dukakis -- said opinions were sought from more than 200 people, including the group which were eventually asked to provide confidential financial and personal records.

'I didn't ask anyone if they were willing to accept if offered,' Brountas told a news conference. 'I simply inquired about their availability.'

Brountas, 56, a Harvard Law classmate of Dukakis, said he met regularly with Dukakis, the candidates and their wives to whittle down the list.

'No one was eliminated from consideration as a result of the background check,' Brountas said, adding Jackson remained a viable candidate until the final decision. Jackson and Brountas met Monday afternoon at a Washington hotel and afterward, the civil rights leader said flatly he wanted to be the vice presidential candidate.

Brountas said political considerations, such as a candidate's appeal to a certain region of the country, did not play a role in the final choice.

'The one principal criteria is who would be the best person to serve as president of the United States in the event that became necessary,' he said.


Tuesday's announcement of Bentsen's selection culminated a monthlong process that turned into something the highly disciplined Dukakis was trying to avoid -- a very visible cattle auction with hopefuls parading before the glare of television lights.

Brountas said Dukakis shunned vice presidential discussions even on the night of the California primary June 7, when the governor clinched the presidential nomination. Brountas recalled Dukakis said that night, 'I'll meet you at breakfast.'

That 7 a.m. meeting triggered a process that included several closed sessions with Jackson, Dukakis's chief rival who publicly proclaimed that his second-place finish in the primary campaign merited for him 'serious consideration.'

The public phase began with Dukakis making a late June trip to Washington for a series of meetings with senators high on pundit lists - including Bentsen, Sam Nunn of Georgia and Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

He followed up with a Midwest campaign swing that included appearances with Glenn and Hamilton.

From there, the process moved into the bright-lights phase used by 1984 nominee Walter Mondale; Dukakis brought hopefuls to his home for a private chat and a meeting with reporters at the edge of the driveway.

The first was Jackson, who with his wife, Jacqueline, came to Brookline on the Fourth of July for dinner and and a fireworks display.


The next day, Gephardt and Gore held hourlong sessions with Dukakis at the Statehouse and Dukakis's home; Hamilton visited on July 6.

Dukakis campaigned with Bentsen late last week in Texarkana, Texas, and the senator, asked if he would accept a second spot, said, 'I don't think I have to worry about that.'

The final piece was put into place Monday during a formal interview with between Brountas and Jackson, where the Chicago civil rights leader indicated he will support Dukakis even if he is not on the ticket.

Latest Headlines